What is the best way to deal with a reputation crisis?

by Steven Lambert, PR & Communications Executive

It can take years to build up a decent, honest reputation, yet as decorated athlete Mo Farah has recently found out, it takes only days to knock it down. The latest doping scandal in sport has been directed not at the runner but instead his coach, Alberto Salazar. Since then, Farah has been eager to distance himself away from Salazar – but is he right to do so?

The allegations towards Salazar stem from a BBC Panorama documentary, which suggested that he had been giving long distance runner Galen Rupp performance enhancing drugs throughout his career. Rupp, who finished just behind Farah in the 10,000m at the London 2012 Olympics, denies any claims of drug involvement – a claim backed up by Salazar. Despite having no direct involvement in this scandal, he may be seen as guilty by association and Farah believes that his name has been “dragged through the mud”.

Farah has built up his reputation as one of the best long distance runners in the world. His philanthropic work is extensive, launching his own foundation after a trip to his homeland Somalia, as well as campaigning to provide food for the most in need across the world. Therefore it comes as no surprise that Farah wants to distance himself as far from the emerging scandal as possible – and we can’t blame him.

Salazar could well turn out to be innocent – at least if he can back up his claims – but even if he is, people will always remember him, and in turn Farah, for the allegations. Bad news is always ‘good news’, even if it’s not completely true, and will stick in the back of the mind for readers long after the scandal is over. The well-publicised case of Christopher Jefferies in 2010 provides a good example of how a good, honest reputation can be tarnished in the media even if that person had no involvement in the incident.

As a result, Farah has made the right choice in remaining objectively distant from Salazar. Other than mentioning that he’ll leave the camp if Salazar cannot prove his innocence, Farah has largely only spoken about the problems that have faced him.

“My reputation is getting ruined.” Farah said. “I don’t want kids to think I am doing something dodgy, when I am not.”

The truth is that Farah’s association with Salazar has tarnished his image at least a little bit. Even though journalists are eagerly specifying that he’s not implicated, the fact that his name is brought up at all associates him with the fallout.  Farah’s ties to Salazar will be remembered – but in distancing himself from his coach, Farah has made a concerted effort to limit his own bad press and in turn manage the threat to his reputation.

Sometimes bad press is unavoidable – but in most cases it can be considered as an opportunity. How we handle bad press is sometimes remembered far more prominently than the bad press itself – it just needs the right reaction.